Brenda Feigen was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. She headed East in 1962, received her Vassar degree with honors in Mathematics and a double-minor in Economics and Russian. Her first year at Harvard Law School raised her consciousness so high that she emerged from there, graduating in 1969, a radical feminist.
Brenda married Harvard classmate, Marc Fasteau, in 1968, and it was during her walk through the Harvard Club of New York City where they were about to get married that Brenda came upon the inspiration for a lawsuit it would take another five years to bring. The library of the Club had a warning sign: ”No Ladies Allowed.” The four-pronged class action sex-discrimination suit that was filed in NY Supreme Court in 1973 was a total victory and the club began admitting women as full members immediately thereafter.
Brenda was elected National Vice President of Legislation for NOW that year and, a year later, was elected to the Policy Council of the National Women’s Political Caucus. She is shown below at a Policy Council meeting with Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and Wilma Scott Heide.
After co-founding Ms. Magazine with Gloria Steinem and forming the Women’s Action Alliance to address issues of concern to women at the local level, she accepted the position of Director (with then Professor Ruth Bader Ginsburg) of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, becoming one of its two co-founders. Significant sex discrimination cases came their way and in one, Frontiero v. Richardson, Brenda not only co-authored the brief but sat at the Counsel Table in the Supreme Court as Professor Ginsburg made her first Supreme Court argument. Ms. Feigen then expanded the scope of the Women’s Right’s Project to include the Reproductive Freedom Rights Project, where her attention was focused not only on abortion rights but also, in three different federal class-action lawsuits, on the rights of low income, minority women to be free from unwanted sterilization. Below Brenda marches with Meredith Baxter and her family at a Washington D.C. march for abortion rights in 1991.
Brenda has been active in the arts as well as politics. She ran to be a Shirley Chisholm delegate to the 1972 Democratic Convention in Miami and six years later, as a candidate herself, for the Democratic nomination for a state senate seat in her home district of Manhattan.
In 1978, Brenda became an Honorary President's Fellow at Columbia University where she studied international politics. Two decades later, she became the Director of "Entertainment Goes Global", a joint project of USC's Annenberg School and the Pacific Council on International Politics. (Click here to read an article about Brenda In Harvard's Alumni Bulletin)
Spreading her wings even wider, Brenda tried her hand at producing a major motion picture, NAVY SEALS. She worked on that movie for two years with writer and former SEAL, Chuck Pfarrer, before it was released by Orion Pictures in July 1990. See Los Angeles Times article, The Woman Behind ‘Navy SEALS’
Brenda, to this day, claims that the Navy SEALs with whom she became acquainted during the production were among the most liberated, most feminist men she’s met. Brenda continues to try to get movies about women made and has met with many women in Hollywood, trying to convince them of the merits, for example, of a movie about the early suffragists. She is shown below in conversation with Meryl Streep and director, Nora Ephron.
Joanne and Brenda discover this tribute to “disobedient” Vassar College student/suffragist while on their visit to the college in 2022. Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s daughter, Harriot, had graduated from Vassar 30 years earlier.
Stories of these and other adventures are vividly described by Ms. Feigen in her best-selling book, NOT ONE OF THE BOYS: LIVING LIFE AS A FEMINIST, which was published in 2000 by Alfred A. Knopf. In 2022, a new last chapter, titled “The Wheel of Feminism,” replaced the original chapter 11, with Brenda now focusing on the current Women’s Movement and feminism, in general. She is particularly proud of the Wheel that she conceptualized as a way to understand the profound impact the Women’s Movement has had and continues to have on society, both in the U.S. and internationally, and to show how interconnected issues beyond women’s rights are with the movement she has championed for over half a century.
The current version of the book is available in both digital and audio formats.
Throughout the years, Brenda has emerged as a leading feminist activist whose reputation in the Women's Movement has led to speaking invitations from around the country on discrimination, including gender, race and sexual orientation discrimination, sexual harassment, ethnic origin, disability and age discrimination. And, of course, Brenda’s reputation has enhanced calls from potential clients both in her own law firm and within groups like the ACLU for which she not only fought for women’s equal rights but also for women’s autonomy, including the right to be free from unwarranted intrusion by government in all matters involving reproduction. Currently, she is looking forward to addressing students and faculty at the University of Cambridge (England) on Reproductive Rights and to participating in a debate sponsored by the world-famous Cambridge Union that centers on whether or not the American Constitution remains “fit for service.”
During the years leading up to the Supreme Court’s finally approving same-sex marriage rights, Brenda visited Justice Ginsburg and was her frequent guest in the Gallery as oral arguments were presented.
A number of articles with Brenda’s byline are listed and linked in the Articles section on this site. She has also spoken widely on subjects related to feminism.
In 2018, Brenda appeared in the Oscar-nominated, Emmy-winning documentary, “RBG” and in early 2020 she was depicted in the widely acclaimed “Mrs. America” limited series (Available on Hulu) with actor, Ari Graynor, portraying “Brenda.” (See especially Episode 5). At the end of that multi-part series, the real Brenda with her husband, Marc Fasteau, is shown in late Spring 1974 debating the noxious Phyllis Schlafly (and her husband, Fred) on the “Tomorrow Show”. A conversation between Brenda and the actor portraying her in “Mrs. America” was published by New York Magazine’s “The Cut.”
In 2020, Brenda was selected by Vassar College to be a panelist with Helen Pankhurst of the famed feminist British family. The moderator was Valerie Paley, a curator and director of the New York Historical Society. (All three had attended Vassar). They were then honored to have their names plated in Vassar’s historic first edition volume of Mary Wollstonecraft”s “Vindication of the Rights of Women.”
In 2022, Brenda Feigen was the recipient of one of Vassar College’s most distinguished awards: The Spirit of Vassar. Selected from a pool of over 40,000 graduates, it is given only to one alumna/us each year.
Brenda lives in Los Angeles with her spouse, Joanne Parrent, here pictured with their dog, Truman.
Brenda Feigen is admitted to practice in California, New York and Massachusetts. She is listed in many reference books, including Who's Who in America. Today, Brenda hopes that her papers will be safely transferred to the New York Public Library and preserved there for the future.